What are rent strikes and why are they building during a pandemic?
Almost a third of Americans have not paid their rent for April, a significant increase from this time last year. In the weeks since the shelter-in-place order, many people have lost their jobs, either temporarily or permanently. Many are wondering how they’re going to pay their rent if they don’t have jobs, but some tenants are wondering why they should have to pay rent at all. You may have seen calls for a rent strike circulating online, but what does that entail?
A rent strike involves a group of tenants organizing and withholding rent until a set of demands are met by their landlords or government. They can be an effective way of improving the conditions of living spaces, lowering rent or creating political change. They have a wide variety of potential benefits as well as risks.
The goal of organizations like Rent Strike 2020 is to freeze rent nationally for the next few months. Although many local governments, including Arcata’s government, have taken measures against evictions due to the pandemic, renters still owe money. The goal of a rent strike would be to eliminate the need to pay while under a shelter-in-place order entirely.
Rent strikes require neighborhood coordination and organization. If one or two tenants in a neighborhood decided to strike by themselves, they are still vulnerable to eviction after a lift on eviction freezes. For a rent strike to be effective, they need to be well organized.
With almost 80% of Americans living paycheck to paycheck, a few months of sheltering in place may mean tenants cannot pay, strike or no strike.